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Dome Effect, Rising Temperatures, Public Distress and Some Solutions

The recent spurt in day temperatures 

Temperatures are rising all over the globe. Heat wave is all around. People are mostly restricted within their houses as summer is at its peak. We hear news of the increasing public distress and the Government providing advisories to people to avoid the extreme heat and keep oneself safe. 

Odisha has been reeling under heat wave conditions since April 2023. The situation has become more intense since the first week of June. The entire state has virtually become a blast furnace, with temperatures soaring above 40°C at 31 of the 38 monitoring centres of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) located in the state.

A Heat Wave is a period of abnormally high temperatures, more than the normal maximum temperature that occurs during the summer season in the North-Western parts of India. Heat Waves typically occur between March and June, and in some rare cases even extend till July. The extreme temperatures and resultant atmospheric conditions adversely affect people living in these regions as they cause physiological stress, sometimes resulting in death.

According to the Bhubaneswar Meteorological Centre of IMD, on June 12, 2023, its centre in the western Odisha city of Sambalpur recorded a maximum temperature of 46.1°C, followed by Hirakud with 45.6°C and Subarnapur with 45°C. IMD has issued an ‘orange alert’ for heat wave to severe heat wave across the state on June 12. As per the special bulletin issued by IMD, hot weather conditions are very likely to prevail in some districts of Odisha. Maximum temperature is very likely to be above normal by 4-6°C at a few places over the districts during the next five days,” the office of the special relief commissioner said in a statement.

Also read – Alarming Rates Of Climate Change In The Past Decade

The capital city of Bhubaneswar recorded a temperature of 44.3°C on June 12. Bargarh, a town in western Odisha, recorded 44.9°C, while another five centres, including Boudh, Balangir, Titlagarh, Nayagarh and Talcher, recorded 44°C each. A total of six centres, including Angul, Jharsuguda, Rourkela, Dhenkanal, Cuttack and Nuapada, recorded temperatures between 43.9°C and 43.2°C.   

Sundargarh, Jagatsinghpur and Khurda recorded temperatures above 42°C while Kendrapara, Phulbani, Bhadrak, Rayagada, Bhawanipatna and Malkangiri centres recorded above 41°C. Keonjhar, Deogarh, Baripada, Paralakhemundi, Chandbali and Chhatrapur recorded above 40 °C.

Odisha has a history of extreme heat. In 1998, over 2,000 people died due to extreme heat waves. However, since then, fatalities reduced to a large extent to 91 the following year due to measures taken by the state government. The fatalities since then have been in two digits except for 2005 and 2010, when 237 and 109 people died, respectively. 

Heat wave conditions began in Odisha in mid-April and continued through May, but from June, it became more severe. From the first week of the month, most of the IMD centres have been consistently recording temperatures above 40°C. While Sambalpur, Jharsuguda and Titlagarh have recorded above 45°C on different days, many other centres have too consistently recorded above 44°C. Due to extreme heat conditions, roads are deserted by 9 am in several parts of Odisha, especially in the western parts of the state. The special relief commissioner has asked the people to take precautionary measures while venturing out between 11 am and 3.30 pm.

The State government on May 30 had issued a warning of heat wave for the next three days. “As on date, five sunstroke death have been confirmed. Sundargarh reported alleged 12 sunstroke deaths and post-mortem is being conducted to ascertain the cause of death, Special Relief Commissioner. Jharsuguda reported 10 deaths since May 29 and the causes of deaths would be determined after post-mortem. Many of these victims were truck drivers. In Jharsuguda, the daytime temperature had crossed 47 degrees Celsius on May 30, and people were cautioned not to venture out from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. In Rourkela, a woman rag-picker was found dead while a labourer reportedly succumbed to heatstroke on railway track. 

People should avoid prolonged heat exposure, wear lightweight, light-coloured, loose, cotton clothes, cover your head and use a wet cloth, hat or umbrella while going out during peak hours. People have been asked to drink sufficient water even if not feeling thirsty to avoid dehydration. Heat wave conditions prevailed in the districts of Balangir, Subarnapur, Bargarh, Sambalpur, Jharsuguda, Kalahandi and Kandhamal. Titlagarh in Balangir district reported a temperature of 46.5 degrees Celsius.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has given the following criteria for Heat Waves:

  • Heat Wave need not be considered till maximum temperature of a station reaches at least 40°C for Plains and at least 30°C for Hilly regions.
  • When normal maximum temperature of a station is less than or equal to 40°C Heat Wave Departure from normal is 5°C to 6°C Severe Heat Wave Departure from normal is 7°C or more.
  • When normal maximum temperature of a station is more than 40°C Heat Wave Departure from normal is 4°C to 5°C Severe Heat Wave Departure from normal is 6°C or more.
  • When actual maximum temperature remains 45°C or more irrespective of normal maximum temperature, heat waves should be declared. Higher daily peak temperatures and longer, more intense heat waves are becomingly increasingly frequent globally due to climate change. 

Odisha is also feeling the adverse impacts of extreme weather events and climate change in terms of increased instances of heat waves which are more intense in nature with each passing year. They have a devastating impact on human health thereby increasing the number of heat wave casualties. Higher daily peak temperatures and longer, more intense heat waves are becomingly increasingly frequent globally due to climate change. 

Dome effect

A heat dome is a weather phenomenon consisting of extreme heat that is caused when the atmosphere traps hot ocean air, as if bounded by a lid or cap. Heat domes happen when strong high pressure atmospheric conditions remain stationary for an unusual amount of time, preventing convection and precipitation and keeping hot air “trapped” within a region. This can be caused by multiple factors, including sea surface temperature anomalies and the influence of a La Nina. The upper air weather patterns are slow to move, referred to by meteorologists as an Omega block. 

The term is often extrapolated in media terminology for any heat wave situation, though heat waves differ as they are periods of excessively hot weather not necessarily caused by such stationary high-pressure systems. The term heat dome is also used in the context of urban heat islands.

Heat domes are typically associated with minimal cloud cover and clear skies, which allow the unhindered penetration of solar radiation to the Earth’s surface, intensifying the overall temperature. They also cover a large geographical area that has a greater atmospheric pressure than the surrounding regions. The high-atmospheric pressure area acts like a lid on the atmosphere and causes warm air to be pushed to the surface and holding it there over extended durations. 

Heat domes allow maximum heating of Earth as it allows penetration of sunshine to the surface of the Earth. Heat domes can arise in still and dry summer conditions, when a mass of warm air builds up, and the high pressure from the Earth’s atmosphere pushes the warm air down. The air is then compressed, and as its net heat is now in a smaller volume, it increases in temperature. As the warm air attempts to rise, the high pressure above it acts as a dome, forcing the air down and causing it to get hotter and hotter, resulting in increased pressure below the dome. 

Relationship to climate change

Studies indicate that human-induced climate change plays a significant role in the formation of heat domes, as heat domes are more likely to occur in higher atmospheric temperatures. The occurrence of heat domes contribute to the positive feedback loop of increased climate change by resulting in overall higher atmospheric temperatures.

Effects

Other weather events

Heat domes coincide with stagnant atmospheric conditions, exacerbating air quality issues. Common byproducts include increased smog and pollution levels. Heat domes can intensify heat waves by interacting with other weather systems, such as frontal boundaries. They can also contribute to drought by increasing the rate of evaporation and reducing soil moisture. And exacerbate drought conditions by increasing the rate of evaporation amongst crops and native vegetation.

Why Baripada Faces High Temperature? 

As Baripada in Mayurbhanj district continues to be the hottest place in Odisha for the last few days, many people have been wondering as to why the town has been witnessing such weather conditions, particularly during March-April. Baripada remained the hottest place in Odisha on Wednesday recording highest day temperature of 44.5 degree Celsius. On Tuesday also, it was the hottest place in the state with 44.2 degree Celsius.

Environmentalists experts and meteorological scientists have presented several reasons for the unique heat wave conditions and high temperatures recorded at Baripada. Explaining the weather phenomenon experienced in Baripada. The unusually high temperature is recorded in Baripada is primarily because of heat dome effect. The temperature remains high as the atmosphere traps hot air like a lid or cap. Heat absorbed by the atmosphere and ground is unable to get released as westerly wind flow has almost stopped. Similarly, cool sea breeze from the east also does not exist in the region. High temperature in Baripada during this time of the year is nothing new. It is not unusual. If we analyze the temperatures recorded in the last 40-50 years, we will find that Baripada always remained hot during March-April. The temperature in Baripada remains higher than that in western Odisha during this period. However, the western region becomes hotter from May onwards. During April 2010, Baripada had recorded very high temperature of 46.1 degree Celsius.

Ecosystem

The occurrence of heat domes have contributed to increasing climate change concerns. Heat domes put communities at risk of increased mortality rates. Deaths resulting from heat domes are more likely to impact susceptible and marginalized populations, who are less likely to have access to air-conditioned living spaces.

State heat action plans have been developed. The report also recommended that a state’s heat action plans should incorporate five core elements:

  • Community outreach to build awareness
  • Early warning systems to alert the public
  • Training of healthcare workers
  • Focusing on the vulnerable population such as farmers, construction workers, traffic police
  • Implementing adaptive measures such as providing drinking water, cooling centers, gardens, shade spaces during extreme heat days

The report stressed the need to build resilience at the city level in addition to state initiatives. City leaders have a clear mandate to protect residents and can employ local means of communication to reach the public. Municipal corporations can also design programmes that tailor programmes to their communities and provide early planning, coordination, capacity building, surveillance and other measures to deal with climate change.

Need for data

Extreme heat can be deadly. When temperatures go up, human, animal and plant health will not remain the same. The Public Health Foundation of India and Indian Institute of Public Health-Gandhinagar (IIPH-G) said during the virtual meet. This is because bodies have evolved to work at a particular temperature.

The risk of heatstroke goes up as temperatures touch 45°C, the expert said. The chance of survival is only 60 per cent, he added. But 90 per cent of heat strokes are indirect. They affect the elderly and people suffering from other diseases who stay home. It is not possible to record most of the indirect heat strokes because they not very easy to identify. They get misclassified as they happen three days after the heatwave. Unfortunately, none of the cities is reporting all-cause daily mortality during the summer. Reporting this data can help experts see if the number of deaths is going up during or immediately after a heat wave.

Health Impacts of Heat Waves

The health impacts of Heat Waves typically involve dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke. The signs and symptoms are as follows: 

  • Heat Cramps: Ederna (swelling) and Syncope (Fainting) generally accompanied by fever below 39°C i.e.102°F. 
  • Heat Exhaustion: Fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps and sweating. 
  • Heat Stoke: Body temperatures of 40°C i.e. 104°F or more along with delirium, seizures or coma. This is a potential fatal condition

Recover and Build

If you think someone is suffering from the heat:

  • Move the person to a cool place under the shade
  • Give water or a rehydrating drink (if the person is still conscious)
  • Fan the person
  • Consult a doctor if symptoms get worse or are long lasting or the person is unconscious
  • Do not give alcohol, caffeine or aerated drink
  • Cool the person by putting a cool wet cloth on his/her face/body
  • Loosen clothes for better ventilation

Emergency Kit

  • Water bottle
  • Umbrella/ Hat or Cap / Head Cover
  • Hand Towel
  • Hand Fan
  • Electrolyte / Glucose / Oral Rehydration

To minimize its effects, take the following safety measures to prevent serious ailments and exhaustion:

  • As far as possible, avoid going out in the hot sun, especially during peak hours. 
  • Drink sufficient water at frequent intervals, even if not thirsty. 
  • Always carry drinking water while travelling. 
  • While going out in sun, wear light colored and loose clothes; use protective goggles; cover your head with a cap or carry an umbrella or towel and always wear shoes or chappals. 
  • Avoid strenuous activities in scorching sun, when the outside temperature is high. If you have to work outside, use damp cloth or an umbrella to cover your head. 
  • Eat light meals and fruits rich in water content like melons, cucumber and citrus fruits. Avoid foods that are high in protein, such as meat and nuts, which increase metabolic heat. 
  • Use home-made beverages like lemon water, butter milk and juices, etc. 
  • Never leave children and pets alone in parked vehicles. 
  • Keep animals in shade and give them sufficient water to drink. Keep your home cool, use curtains, shutters or sunshade etc. 
  • Open windows at night to maintain adequate ventilation. 
  • Listen to local weather forecasts and be aware of impending temperature changes. In case of illness and fainting, consult a doctor/seek immediate medical help. 

HEAT WAVE 

Heat stroke can be dangerous. Protect yourself with simple precautions Heat stroke can be dangerous. To minimize its effects, take the following safety measures to prevent serious ailments and exhaustion: 

What to do in Heat Stroke 

Safety Tips

  • Get the person indoors or into a cool/shady area, make him/her lie down with feet slightly elevated. 
  • Wipe the body with a wet cloth or spray cold water to the skin. 
  • Give the person ORS/lemon water/salt-sugar solution or juice to re-hydrate the body. 
  • Do not give anything to eat or drink to a person until he/she is fully conscious. 
  • Take the person to the nearest health centre if symptoms do not improve in one hour.
  • Aam panaa (green Mango syrup) is also good to prevent sun stroke.
  • Onions too have cooling effect. In case of high fever due to sun stroke, onion juice is applied on palm and feet to bring down body temperature. 

Acclimatization

People at risk are those who have come from a cooler climate to a hot climate. You may have such a person(s) visiting your family during the heat wave season. They should not move about in open field for a period of one week till the body is acclimatized to heat and should drink plenty of water. Acclimatization is achieved by gradual exposure to the hot environment during heat wave.

Community efforts

In many town and cities in India, we see common citizens and their associations volunteer to supply clean drinking water to people passing through the roads and National Highways. This is an age-old practice. “Bhandaras” are common and organized at the road sides and various locations in the towns and cities in North India and various other Indian States. These are temporary set ups to provide free food and water to the people during peak summer months. 

People feel that it is a pious activity to provide water to the thirsty. Bhandaras are also organized in places of pilgrimage like Deoghar in Jharkhand, where the “Kanwars” (pilgrims) have food and water during their journey to the Shiva temple at Deoghar. 

Some of the city dwellers also install water containers in their balconies, terraces and other open spaces in their houses and gardens for birds and squirrels to come and drink water and sometimes, these are also used to have a quick dip/bathe. These individual and collective efforts need to be supported, encouraged and promoted further by one and all. 

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